Hoover v. Bank of America Corp.

Decision Date24 September 2003
Docket NumberNo. 8:02-CV-478-T-23TBM.,8:02-CV-478-T-23TBM.
Citation286 F.Supp.2d 1326
PartiesHerbert C.M. HOOVER, Plaintiff, v. BANK OF AMERICAN CORPORATION, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

William D. Mitchell, Mitchell Law Group, Tampa, FL, for Plaintiff.

Michael Robert Cavendish, McGuire-Woods LLP, David M. Wells, McGuire-Woods LLP, Jacksonville, FL, David F. Dabbs, McGuireWoods LLP, Richmond, VA, Amy Wilsey Miller, McGuirewoods LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

ORDER

MERRYDAY, District Judge.

On August 21, 2003, United States Magistrate Judge Thomas B. McCoun issued a report and recommendation (Doc. 74) on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. 52, 53). The defendant objects to the report and recommendation (Doc. 76). Upon consideration, the objections to the report and recommendation are overruled, and the report and recommendation is ADOPTED. Accordingly, the defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 52) is GRANTED with respect to the plaintiff's fourth claim for relief as defined in the report and recommendation. The plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 53) is GRANTED with respect to the plaintiff's first, second, and third claims for relief as defined in the report and recommendation. This matter is remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with the report and recommendation. The Clerk is directed to (1) terminate any pending motions and (2) close the file.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

McCOUN, United States Magistrate Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the court on referral by the Honorable Steven D. Merryday for a Report and Recommendation on the following:

(1) Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or Alternatively Summary Judgment (Doc. 11);1

(2) Defendant Bank of America's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or in the Alternative for Summary Judgments and Memorandum on Dispositive Motions (Doc. 17) and Plaintiff's response in opposition (Doc. 24), as corrected (Doc. 37);

(3) Defendant Bank of America's Motion for Summary Judgment, with Memorandum (Doc. 52) and Plaintiff's response (Doc. 60); and

(4) Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 53),2 Defendant's response (Doc. 59), as corrected (Doc. 69), and Plaintiff's supplemental statement of facts (Doc. 71) in response to Defendant's Amended Answer.

Additionally, the parties have filed voluminous exhibits in support of their pleadings. Oral arguments on the motions were conducted on May 28, 2003. See (Doc. 72).

At a hearing on Defendant Bank of America's Motion for Leave to Amended Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 22) conducted on April 15, 2003, the parties advised that the cross-motions for summary judgment subsume and incorporate the cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. See (Doc. 65). Therefore, this Report and Recommendation addresses with specificity only the motions for summary judgment.

I.

The undisputed facts establish that Plaintiff began employment with Citizens Bank & Trust Company (hereinafter "Citizens") in North Carolina on August 13, 1964. As of 1973, Plaintiff was the Executive Vice President and a Director of Citizens. In March 1973, Citizens merged into North Carolina National Bank (hereinafter "NCNB"), and Plaintiff was employed as a "City Manager" after the merger. At the time of the merger, Plaintiff was a participant in Citizens' pension plan. Upon the merger of the two companies, the Citizens pension plan was merged into the NCNB pension plan (hereinafter "the Plan"). On June 30, 1973, Plaintiff terminated his employment with NCNB. On February 1, 1974, Plaintiff began his employment with Exchange Bank (hereinafter "Exchange") in Tampa, Florida. On or about December 31, 1982, Exchange merged into NCNB, and the Exchange pension plan, of which Plaintiff was a participant, was merged into the NCNB Plan.

On November 30, 1983, Plaintiff sent a letter addressed to Judy Clark, Secretary of the NCNB Retirement Committee (hereinafter "Committee"), requesting confirmation that his aggregate years of service with Citizens and Exchange would contribute to his total accrued benefit and vesting service. See Dep. of Herbert C.M. Hoover, Exh. 16 (Doc. 52, Exh. F). Subsequently, Plaintiff sent a letter dated January 18, 1984, to Jack E. Boland, Personnel Manager, asking him to initiate an inquiry into his "years of service benefit with the bank" and indicating that he had not received a response to his prior request. See id., Exh. 17. In a responsive letter dated January 20, 1984, Ms. Clark advised Plaintiff that his service would be determined from the date of his employment with Exchange, or February 1, 1974, in accordance with ERISA rules and because he was not vested under NCNB's Retirement Plan when he terminated his service in 1973. See id., Exh. 12.

It appears that the Plaintiff next made inquiry of these matters in or about December 1997, by completing a "Prior Employment Questionnaire." In a December 17, 1997, response to this inquiry, the NationsBank3 Associate Center sent Plaintiff an outline of his benefit plan with respect to his prior service.4 See Correspondence related to Hoover Initial Claim (Doc. 17, Exh. A, Vol. I). By letter dated December 31, 1997, Plaintiff wrote to Terry Abel in the legal department regarding his "NationsBank Employment Service Credit," therein recounting the bank's response to his questionnaire. See Dep. of Herbert C.M. Hoover, Exh. 6 (Doc. 52, Exh. F). He further stated:

The NationsBank Associate Center has informed me that there is no appeal available, with respect of (sic) NationsBank's decision denying me benefit service for this period of time. However, I wish to reserve my legal options regarding the pension benefits issue, while I am employed at NationsBank. Therefore, as my manager, I will appreciate it if you will inform me if NationsBank does not wish to toll the statute of limitations with respect of (sic) this matter, during my employment.

See id. It does not appear from the exhibits that Mr. Abel responded to this. In January 1998, another attempt to explain the bank's position was made by Donna Ball in an electronic mail message. See Correspondence related to Hoover Initial Claim (Doc. 17, Exh. A, Vol. I).

By letter dated April 13, 2001, Plaintiff requested Ms. Ball to review a March 2001 decision of the district court for the Southern District of New York, which he believed had applicability to his claim for the additional accrued benefits based on his employment with Citizens.5 See Dep. of Herbert C.M. Hoover, Exh. 7 (Doc. 52, Exh. F).6 On May 30, 2001, Plaintiff wrote another letter to Ms. Ball inquiring whether he was required to complete the specific form referred to in the Bank of America "Associate Handbook" in order for his April 13, 2001, request to be treated as a claim. See id., Exh. 9. Plaintiff also submitted evidence in support of his claim for credit for his prior service with Citizens and NCNB. See id.

In a seven-page letter dated June 8, 2001, Bonnie J. Kaul, Vice President, Personnel Services Case Manager III, denied Plaintiff's request for a change to be made to his Plan benefits. See Letter from Bonnie J. Kaul to Herbert C.M. Hoover (June 8, 2001), Correspondence related to Hoover Initial Claim (Doc. 17, Exh. A, Vol. I; Doc. 53, Exh. 4). The letter recited Plaintiff's employment history, discussed Plan provisions under the 1973 and 1982 Plans,7 ERISA rules applicable to service before January 1, 1976, and related case law as the bases for the denial. See id. Finally, the letter advised Plaintiff of his appeal rights. See id. On or about July 31, 2001, Plaintiff sent a letter demanding documents needed for proof of his claim. See Letter from William D. Mitchell to Bank of Am. Corp. Benefits Comm. (July 31, 2001), Correspondence related to Hoover Initial Claim (Doc. 17, Exh. A, Vol. I; Doc. 53, Exh. 4).

By letter dated September 4, 2001, Plaintiff, through counsel, appealed the June 8, 2001, decision. See Letter from William D. Mitchell to Bank of Am. Corp. Benefits Comm. (Sept. 4, 2001), Correspondence related to Hoover Appeal (Doc. 17, Exh. A, Vol. I; Doc. 53, Exh. 10). In a letter dated January 2, 2002, Dana Farber, on behalf of the Benefits Appeals Committee (hereinafter "Appeals Committee"), upheld the determination of Ms. Kaul that Plaintiff's service with Citizens and NCNB from 1964 to 1973 did not count as "Benefit Service" under the Bank of America Pension Plan. See Letter from Dana Farber to William D. Mitchell (Jan. 2, 2002), Correspondence related to Hoover Appeal (Doc. 17, Exh. A, Vol. I; Doc. 53, Exh. 2).

Plaintiff filed the instant action alleging that Defendant's refusal to credit him for service at Citizens and NCNB from 1964-1973 constituted a violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (hereinafter "ERISA" or "the Act") section 204, 29 U.S.C. § 1054, and the regulations promulgated thereunder (First Claim for Relief); a violation of ERISA section 210(b), 29 U.S.C. § 1060(b) (Second Claim for Relief); and a violation of the Plan (Third Claim for Relief); and that Defendant's refusal to consider Plaintiff's claim that a partial termination occurred following the merger between Citizens and Bank of America constituted a violation of the Plan, the Internal Revenue Code, and the regulations promulgated thereunder (Fourth Claim for Relief).8 The parties filed cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings (Docs. 11, 17) and cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. 52, 53, 54).

II.

The court shall grant summary judgment for the moving party only when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The court may look to "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits," in determining whether summary judgment is appropriate....

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